I have a document from Science.gov and i wish to copy a graph of it in a commercial document. The document is described as:

Distribution Category UC-42

Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.

Does that mean that there is no copyright protection the document?

It's at the top of the third page: http://www.osti.gov/scitech/servlets/purl/1130326/

here is another document with a copyright statement on line 10, i don't understand it. http://prod.sandia.gov/techlib/access-control.cgi/2007/076781.pdf

  • Are you sure it says "distribution UC-42," and not, say, "distribution A"? Better yet, can you link the document?
    – cpast
    Nov 23, 2016 at 22:19
  • Hi! thanks! sorry i linked the document, it's the first one which is UC 42. Nov 23, 2016 at 22:52
  • These UC-number distribution codes have some meaning, probably determined by DOE because there are a bunch of them. They all seem to be "works of the US Government", which are exempt from copyright, but I don't know if that is what it means.
    – user6726
    Nov 23, 2016 at 23:23
  • 1
    @user6726 They don't look like government works. DoE labs are generally contractor-run.
    – cpast
    Nov 23, 2016 at 23:24
  • OSTI web page on copyright. Maybe someone else can make an answer out of it!
    – mkennedy
    Nov 24, 2016 at 19:58

1 Answer 1


As a general rule, no. The "distribution statement" on US government documents has to do with sensitive information, not copyright. For instance, in the Department of Defense, a document with a graph of velocity vs. distance for a new bullet might be marked "Distribution D - Critical Technology," meaning that the information shouldn't be given to anyone outside the DoD or a DoD contractor (the information might not be classified, but it's not something to go telling everyone about). A slide that talks about what the lab did that year and has a bullet point for "Invented new, longer-ranged bullet" might be marked "Distribution A," meaning that there's no issue with telling everyone that the lab invented a new bullet with a longer range.

Any work produced by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of their official duties is not protected under US copyright law. A work produced by someone else (like a contractor) likely is protected. There are plenty of public-domain documents that are not approved for public release, and there are plenty of copyrighted documents that can be publicly released. The Department of Energy has many contractor-operated labs, and it appears that the document you gave was written by a contractor, meaning that copyright would generically apply.

That doesn't necessarily mean that this document in particular, or the image in particular, is copyrightable. But it's not safe to assume that "public release" means "public domain," because they're different things entirely.

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